Monthly Archives: November 2013

Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture

November 26, 2013
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Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture

Gaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman addresses the repressed history and forgotten odysseys of this marginalized group of colonial women—runaways, widows, and others who, as indentured servants, replaced newly emancipated slaves (slavery was abolished by the British Empire in 1833) on sugar plantations around the globe. Recent profiles of Bahadur discussing the book’s subject matter have appeared at the Guardian and The Writer’s “How I Write” series. For Bahadur, the story is personal; through mining the archives of these women’s stories, well as digging up her own roots, she encounters her great-grandmother’s own traumatic “middle passage” from India to Guyana in 1903. “I found out that her story was extraordinary but it wasn’t exceptional in that most of the women who went to West Indies as indentured laborers were like her, they were by themselves” says Bahadur. “What motivated me to write this story was to sort of rescue them from anonymity if I could. To give them names.” For many of these women, as Bahadur conveys in her recent appearance on NPR’s Tell Me More, their journeys were only the start of life marked by widespread and blatant oppression: upon arrival, they were met with hard labor, sexual exploitation, violence, and the rescinding of basic human . . .

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Where the North Sea Touches Alabama

November 25, 2013
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Where the North Sea Touches Alabama

An excerpt from Where the North Sea Touches Alabama by Allen C. Shelton This is the sketch I made the day my father was buried: The beaver, long leaf pine, flint and quartz, swamp age: 1–1600. The first graves in the shape of a snake at the foot of Crooked Mountain are constructed. Beans and corn arrive from Mexico. De Soto passes by. The final collapse of the mound builders takes place as the blue celt is left behind in the dirt where the Big House will be built. The mule, corn, cotton, creek, and iron age: 1799–1942. Revolutionary war veteran Tyree Landers arrives. The first Baptist and Methodist churches are established. The Creek Indian War brings Andrew Jackson and Davy Crockett to within miles of my home. The Big House is built with bring interior colors. Elizabeth Champion dies. The Trail of Tears sucks the Creeks out of the area. They leave gold buried in secret places. The Confederate officer John Pelham is killed. The map of this world is drawn by the Confederate officer. The original families that settled the valley go extinct and the exile of the dead begins. The woods overtake the Champion graves. Luke Coppick leaves the Big House. . . .

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The Kennedy Assassination, boomers, and TV journalism

November 22, 2013
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The Kennedy Assassination, boomers, and TV journalism

Among the literature surrounding the assassination of JFK and its establishment as a cultural hallmark for baby-boomers, Barbie Zelizer’s Covering the Body occupies a unique space. For these boomers, coming of age on the cusp of resurgent neoliberalism, our then-burgeoning involvement in Vietnam, the rise of televised mass media, and an engulfment in social protests that attempted (some successfully) to engender change in the struggle for civil, racial, and gender rights, JFK’s assassination was and remains a memento mori for all sorts of abandoned ideals, fraught causes, would-be and could-be scenarios, as well as a dark reminder of both whispered conspiracies and also how acts of violence distort our desire for meaning in a randomized universe. Anyhow: I teach conspiracy in the context of an art school as a nostalgia-driven metanarrative and secular form of maximalist knowing, something akin to Wallace Stevens’s sense of a “supreme fiction,” mixed with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s notions of paranoid and reparative readings. Conspiracy theory—the cultural circulation of doubt that surrounds determinate events and indeterminate context—lets us perform a profound and manic kind of grief-work about the systems that fail to position us in knowing and trusting relation to them. With regard to the Kennedy assassination, this . . .

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The Vinyl Prayers Project

November 21, 2013
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The Vinyl Prayers Project

John Lardas Modern (I almost typed “Vardas”—let’s call it an accidental homage to Agnès Varda, who is someone I think about when I think about those weird spaces at the edge of realism, when you fall into pure perspective and some sort of spiritual fizzing or its harsher alternative; anyhow, she was one of five people present at Jim Morrison’s burial, so I am filing my moment of misprision as subliminally relevant) has a really interesting website. In addition to penning Secularism in Antebellum America and serving as an editor-at-large for the Immanent Frame, Modern is a curator and vinyl collector. Interested, interesting. His Vinyl Prayers Project, “a virtual mix-tape of vinyl prayer,” allows him to (and for the most part—seamlessly) blend those identities into the persona of a monkishly meditative steward of tracks repressed and unhinged from pop culture that hover in the realm of what he defines as prayer, or, “a weapon, a request to heal the body or boost the brain, an epistemic cry, a meditation, a mediation, a quip, a plea, a means of passive resistance, a wonderful gift from God.” Like for all collectors and most seekers, there is a strange borderland to cross between obsession and devotion, and this is likely the archive you’d desire to listen to again and . . .

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Bernard E. Harcourt, from Occupy Wall Street

November 20, 2013
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Bernard E. Harcourt, from Occupy Wall Street

Compelled by the title of Bernard E. Harcourt’s upcoming talk (tomorrow) at Yale University— “So Michel Foucault and Gary Becker Walk into a Bar. . . .  A Lecture and Conversation with Bernard Harcourt on Punishment, Sexual Capital, and Neoliberalism”—we remembered a passage of his from Occupy: Three Inquiries In Disobedience. “We the People”: Myth and Democratic Challenge Judith Butler said, at Occupy Wall Street, “We’re standing here together making democracy, enacting the phrase ‘We the people!'” A bold statement—indeed, a real reappropriation that raises deep questions about this collective myth. In an odd way, it almost feels as if the Occupy movement had it harder than other contemporary resistance movements—dare I say, harder than even the Arab Spring revolutions. To be sure, the resisters in the Arab world faced (and may still face today) brutal authoritarian regimes. They risked, and in many cases lost, their lives. Their unmatched courage has been an inspiration around the world. On that count, they have stared down a far more violent and oppressive adversary than anyone else. But they had one. They had an identifiable adversary—oppressive and authoritarian regimes—that they could target and topple. They had and have a concrete goal, grievances, an objective, . . .

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The Studio Reader and the 2014 Whitney Biennial

November 19, 2013
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The Studio Reader and the 2014 Whitney Biennial

In 2010, we published The Studio Reader, an anthology of writings on artists and their spaces—metaphorical and literal, spatial and conceptual—helmed by Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner. We were delighted to learn Grabner had been selected as one of three curators for the 2014 Whitney Biennial (and just as equally pleased to see her here in the company of Anthony Elms, editor of WhiteWalls, a publisher of writings by artists distributed by the University of Chicago Press; we’re certain their companion co-curator Stuart Comer is of sound mind, but we can’t directly link him to our operation with any sort of understated eloquence). Now that the list of Biennial artists has been released, a bit more reason to celebrate the book: contributors Shana Lutker and David Robbins will both be included in the show, which opens on March 1, 2014. In the meantime, The Studio Reader remains a meaningful foray into questions both sobering and dynamic about the role of the studio in the lives and work of contemporary artists:  What does it mean to be in the studio? What is the space of the studio in the artist’s practice? How do studios help artists envision their agency and, beyond that, . . .

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J. Carter Brown and Capital Culture

November 18, 2013
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J. Carter Brown and Capital Culture

Neil Harris’s Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery of Art, and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience tells the story of J. Carter Brown, an aesthetic impresario whose tenure as director of the National Gallery of Art from 1969 to 1992 transformed twentieth-century museum culture and left a legacy of flashy showmanship, global clout, and unprecedented growth. Below follows an excerpt from the book, taken from the chapter “Minister of Culture: Shaping Washington,” which finds Brown positioning his roles at the National Gallery and the Commission of Fine Arts into something akin to an unofficial minster of culture. *** Writing to Carter Brown in 1960, in response to the news of his planned move to Washington, his friend Tony Athos ventured a prediction. The presidential campaign was still going on, but Athos prophesied that when “we get a President who can provide moral, intellectual as well as economic leadership, I have no doubt that you will be the youngest cabinet member in history & the first for culture.” Despite John F. Kennedy’s election, the United States would not create a cabinet position for culture. But beginning in the 1970s, Brown was able to translate his various positions into . . .

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Q & A with Henry Gee

November 15, 2013
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Q & A with Henry Gee

As promised, to close out University Press Week, here’s a Q & A with author Henry Gee, whose recent book The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution questions the value of concepts like the “missing link” and the Great Chain of Being, positioning them as metaphors that paint a inaccurate portrait of how human evolution really works, and pinning down human exceptionalism as a gross error that continues to infect scientific thought. He also talks about Carl Sagan, Darwin’s vocabulary, and the ubiquity of battered copies of Beowulf in UK bookstores, after the jump. *** UCP: The Accidental Species is a serious work about a serious topic—the subject of how and where we locate our own   (flawed) notion of human exceptionalism—filled with pop-cultural references such as “Lady Marmalade,” sports cars, elephant jokes, The Hobbit, the works of Lewis Carroll, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Could you describe your sensibility as a paleontologist trying to write a trade book accessible for the general reader? HG: I’m quite sensitive to a possible criticism of didactic books like this—that is, they can get rather preachy. So, rather than gently introducing readers to unfamiliar arguments, some books tend to use such arguments . . .

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Henry Gee on the evolution* of scholarly publishing

November 14, 2013
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Henry Gee on the evolution* of scholarly publishing

Continuing our week-long series of posts for University Press Week, we asked Henry Gee, senior editor at Nature and author of The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution, for his unique perspective on university press publishing. Gee has contributed several books to Chicago’s lists in science and anthropology and is, of course, all too familiar with shepherding the work of scholars, reviewers, and critics through its final stage runs prior to publication. What follows below are thoughts on his experiences with the University of Chicago Press (including working with our Editorial Director for the Sciences and Social Sciences Christie Henry). Stay tuned tomorrow for a Q & A with Gee about human exceptionalism, science fiction, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. *** Chicago and I go back a long way. The first time I ever went to the United States, it was in Chicago I landed. It was the North American Paleontological Convention, in 1992. To this wide-eyed Brit it felt like I’d walked onto a movie set. I’ve been to Chicago many times since and I love the place—every grimy, shiny, rough, vibrant particle of it. There’s a table at the Valois “See Your Food” Cafeteria, . . .

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Carol Kasper on the history of Chicago’s distribution program

November 13, 2013
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Carol Kasper on the history of Chicago’s distribution program

To continue the themes of University Press Week, which include “celebrat of the role of university presses in our intellectual, cultural, and civic life,” we asked our Sales and Marketing Director Carol Kasper to give us an insider’s perspective on the history of Chicago’s distribution program, which currently works with over one hundred individual publishers. Her thoughts on how the program has helped to facilitate “community and commerce” among university presses follow below: November. Cold winds. Rain. The last bursts of fall color. Thanksgiving. And, now, University Press Week! A nice thing to see after thirty-plus years at the University of Chicago Press and a recent three-year stint on the board of the Association of American University Presses. Some of the things we talked about during my recent tenure are still ongoing—for instance, the effort to reach out to scholarly presses that aren’t attached to universities and to presses outside North America. These causes were two that I felt most strongly about, no doubt because of my experiences with Chicago’s distribution programs. So, a little meditation here on the nature of community and commerce in the scholarly publishing world in honor of University Press Week! First, a non-rhetorical question that . . .

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